Last week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced she would recommend former prime ministers Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday receive T&T’s highest national award, the Order the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
As expected, there was mixed reaction, much of it tinged with political bias. Mr Manning added his voice, saying the public announcement was “a gross discourtesy” since he was not consulted. He also wondered if Mrs Persad-Bissessar would take back statements she made about him on the political hustings.
Mr Manning’s disingenuous approach to this matter demonstrated that while Mrs Persad-Bissessar has moved away from the political battlefield, he is still suffering from political tabanca.
In her own response, the Prime Minister stated she found it unfortunate Mr Manning declined the offer. “Whatever differences we may share politically the award sought to honour Mr Manning for his decades of service as a parliamentarian,” she stated.
“It is regrettable that in rejecting the nomination, Mr Manning should seek to politicise the matter. His comments run against the grain of what was a well-intended gesture.”
She explained the decision to honour Mr Manning was based on her Government’s changing philosophy to honour those who have served regardless of their political affiliation, religious or other beliefs. “It is my hope that the ideal of reaching beyond the divide of politics to honour those who served the nation has not been lost,” she said.
One commentator on an online blog put Manning in his place: “Mr Manning in his political sunset must distinguish between and separate the political hustings from affairs of the state and governance. The conferral of the award was a matter of State that ought to be de-linked from the political hustings.”
Mr Manning knows only too well the committee chaired by the Chief Justice considers nominations from the public for national awards, and that the Prime Minister may add or delete names from the list before forwarding it to the President. The President’s office contacts nominees to determine if they would accept the awards.
The Prime Minister did not bypass the National Awards Committee; her additions were legitimately included in the final list of nominees submitted by her to the President.
If Mr Manning found it improper for Mrs Persad-Bissessar to make a public announcement about her recommendations, then he must apply the same standard to himself. Didn’t Mr Manning make a similar pre-award statement about the national football team that participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany? Didn’t he do the same thing with respect to Dr Brian Copeland?
Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold objected, saying Dr Copeland did not deserve the award and suggested pan tuner, arranger and composer Tony Williams and pan tuner Ellie Mannette were more deserving of the top honour.
Prime ministers can make public announcements outside of the purview of the National Awards Committee, as Mrs Persad-Bissessar did when she honoured the Mighty Sparrow. Only People’s National Movement leader Dr Keith Rowley objected—not about the award, but the fact that it was made in Penal in the presence of the calypso icon.
Mr Manning is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill with his political pettiness that is most unwelcome, especially coming from a man who has served as a parliamentarian, political leader and prime minister. He has missed the opportunity to show statesmanship.
The Prime Minister’s magnanimous gesture was a genuine political move to honour two men whom she defeated on the political battlefield. Mr Manning’s political tantrum shows he has still not overcome that thrashing and that he lacks respect for the State and its citizens.
If, as he says, he holds “our institutions, ceremonies and awards in the highest esteem”, then he should show it. But for him, political expediency still takes precedence over the nation and the people remain subordinate to his and his party’s interests.
That’s evident in his statement that he prays for the day Mrs Persad-Bissessar and the People’s Partnership Government demit office.